By Jonah Morgan
To the totally clueless gaijin who’s just landed in Tokyo and gets into the city, lost in a sea of meaningless Kanji, Katakana and Hiragana, having no idea where they may be or how to get somewhere else there is a saviour in a train that you cannot get lost on. Take a look at a map of the city’s maze of many train lines (never mind labyrinthine subway routes) and a light green circle sticks out, a coherent shape amongst a sea of weaving lines, imagine that, a train that goes in a perfect circle around Tokyo’s center.
Well, the idea is a circle but seen from above the actual line’s shape is somewhat that of a misconstrued oval, two ovals actually, one going in a clockwise and counter clockwise direction, both are about 6 kilometers horizontal and 12 km vertical, lengthing out to form a 34.5 kilometer long track. 29 stations/stops are on the Yamanote Line and one can reach all of the metropolitan area’s hotspots from this train, litteraly every stop represents another unique urban curiosity of the city. Hop on board and you will completely loop back to the point where you stepped on in 64 minutes (Japanese trains are notriously famous for being on time, make it to the platform late, just a little late in some cases and you might get left behind!). One loop around the city is 130 Yen minimum or the savy traveler can acquire a stylishy decorated Io Pass for 1000, 3000 or 5000 Yen respectively. These passes are made of a material unfamilar to most Americans, a kind of flimsy plastic, before passing into the gate, you’ll slide the card in to a reader, sometimes it takes more than one time to get a positive read.
Being the most useful access point for Tokyo the train line has been the subject of many “tour Tokyo from the Yamaote” books, countless picture perfect video game titles can be found in Akihabara stores where you can pilot the train. Yamanote oddities abound. Manga fans anxious to get that latest phone book of serials might just find it stashed in the bin above the benches, that’s where it often goes once one person is done with their copy. Same goes for newspapers or books even. One evening I saw a student finishing off the Battle Royale novel and prominently chunking it up towards the rack.
The trains shutdown between midnight and 1 AM, miss the last one and you’re screwed. Haha, well not really but you will definetly get a taste of what makes Tokyo one of the most expensive cities on Earth. One night scooped out in an Ikebukuro arcade trying to get that ever elussive UFO Catcher Domo-kun plush and 500 Yen/per shot Neo Geo Pocket I messed up and lost track of time, realizing this, I made a fast dash for the Train station, upon reaching the gate the JR worker just shook his head, I had missed the last one. My ryokan was in Ueno and now I was gonna have to charge it to tha game and get there via Taxi. First of all the taxi line wasn’t hard to find, it was right outside the train station. There were about 30 club / bar hoppers in various types of attire waited in vartying states of sobriety. Likewise taxis were lined up in queue for the passengers. When it came my turn I informed my driver of where I needed to go in the worst broken engrish/nihongo he’d ever heard. The inn was in Ueno and I don’t believe he knew the exact dropoff spot. Just great, 2 AM in the morning and I barely knew what the neighborhood around my place looked like beyond the walking distance to the subway. At anyrate he told me he’d try his best and we were off. On went the meter and I watched the digital numerals materialize and dematerilaze faster than any I’d ever seen on any gas pump in my life. “I’m about to pay out the ass” I thought, ” so this is the real Tokyo!” And I couldn’t be happier, I clutched a soft $10 domo-kun I spent $35 en-route to catching.
Turned out Ueno isn’t so far from Ikebukuro but who could tell that? My taxi fare was $47 US dollars. Compare that to a 2 dollar train ride on the Yamanote, you gotta pay to play late in Tokyo, if there were any previous doubts, this lesson was learned.
Wanna ride the Yamanote yourself? You can as part of the upcoming Pop Japan Travel tour coming up in April, go to the link to find out more! Be sure to mention ANS when signing up!
Yamnote Image (C) JR